Consultant Says Arsenic Levels at Sag Harbor Learning Center Were Not Hazardous

A retaining wall behind the Sag Harbor Learning Center. Board of Education members discovered this week that arsenic was discovered this spring in soil near the retaining wall on the property. Michael Heller photo.

The levels of arsenic detected at the Sag Harbor Learning Center were deemed not hazardous, Brandon Broderick, a professional geologist who works in environmental and construction consulting and testing, informed the Sag Harbor Board of Education at its Monday work session.

Arsenic — a chemical that can be toxic — was detected in soils found on the Division Street property this past spring by contractors and architects renovating the former Stella Maris Regional School building into administrative offices and pre-kindergarten facilities for the Sag Harbor School District.

However, it was revealed in January that the board of education was not informed of the soil contamination until several months after it was initially discovered, despite the fact that the contamination resulted in the removal of 300 tons of soil at a cost of $24,327.

IBI Group, a global architecture, engineering and technology firm that is managing construction of the new school facility, told the board that trace amounts of arsenic had been found in the soil of the Learning Center towards the exterior of the property, in close proximity to the existing retaining wall.

This information was relayed to the board at its last meeting, although exact figures were not presented to the public until Monday night.

Mr. Broderick explained to that board that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in 2017, changed regulations regarding arsenic. Polluted soil was being excavated from New York City and being dumped on Long Island at that time and the DEC got involved as a result.  The agency changed its “Beneficial Use Determination” regarding arsenic, mandating that any soil being removed from a site had to be sampled and analyzed before being discarded elsewhere.

With the Sag Harbor Learning Center, IBI was removing soil in two locations; near the retaining wall towards the back of the property, and for an elevator pit.

Because the excess soil had to be removed from the property, the DEC demanded that soil be tested before being discarded.

“It’s not clean enough,” Mr. Broderick said after the soil near the retaining wall was tested. “What they’re trying to avoid is dumping not so clean soil onto clean properties.”

The elevator pit soil came back with no issues while the soil near the retaining wall was slightly elevated, he said

The allowable concentration for arsenic in soil on Long Island is 16 parts per million. What was found in the soil at the Learning Center was 17.5 parents per million.

The elevator sample soil they collected contained 2.64 parts per million of arsenic, which Mr. Broderick characterized as on the very low level in terms of concentrations.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element. It’s 33 on the Periodic Table and widely distributed on the Earth’s crust. All soil contains some level of arsenic.

Cooper chromated arsenic, or CCA, treated wood was most likely the culprit for the arsenic leaching into the soil. Mr. Broderick said that a study conducted in 2004 showed that 90 percent of commercial grade arsenic was used in CCA. The remaining portion was used in mosquito repellants and pesticides.

“Any property below any CCA wood or farms that were treated with pesticides are expected to have a higher concentration,” he said, adding that at one point in time, 50 percent of Long Island was used for farming, with safe arsenic values according to the DEC ranging from 27.8 to 51 parts per million.

The 17.5 parts per million isn’t deemed unsafe, it just can’t be reused on other properties or dumped elsewhere and has to be properly discarded.

“There is no beneficial use to arsenic in the human body. There is no acceptable level of arsenic to a human being. With that said, because all soil contains some arsenic, there is always some level of risk associated with any soils even natural concentrations,” he told the board.

A study of the East End Community Organic Farm on Long Lane in East Hampton showed arsenic levels of 33.1 parts per million, which is still deemed as safe for farming by the DEC. However, that soil would not be allowed to be removed and dumped elsewhere in accordance with the new DEC standards.

He said there is no required action necessary as the 17.5 parts per million is not a hazardous level. Board member Chris Tice said Mr. Broderick’s presentation was incredibly helpful.

However, Ms. Tice questioned why they had to remove the soil if it served no harm and why it had to be sent to New Jersey.

“We have to remove the soil,” Mr. Broderick said nodding to the new law. “Someone has to accept it,” he said, adding that it’s a brand-new law and many agencies aren’t with compliance yet so it had to be transferred to New Jersey.

Board president Jordana Sobey wanted to know if Mr. Broderick recommended that other samples throughout the property should be tested for safety.

It doesn’t appear to be a chronic problem on the site, he said, adding that the original issue was solely associated with the retaining wall. Responding to board member Brian DeSesa’s question, Mr. Broderick said it would take a week and a half to test all soils on the Learning Center property.

In other school news, the board was given a brief update on construction progress at the Learning Center by district Facilities Director Paul Wilken and it appears that project will not be completed until early spring.

The building schedule from IBI Group states that from January 20 to February 29, there will be an “ongoing effort to finish work.”

From March 1 to March 31, IBI believes that the architect and engineer punch list review will be ready and contractors will be completing the final punch list items. In addition, the building will need a fire marshal’s inspection, final cleaning, system programming, and Suffolk County Water Authority approval.

In regard to replacing the existing retaining wall, on February 1 the board is expected to finalize bid documents and advertise for public bidding from February 3 until the 20. They will award the bid on February 28 and start construction on February 29.

Other work that needs to be completed in the Learning Center includes minor flooring, lighting, and ceiling work, in addition to painting and fire system hookups.

Sag Harbor High School Principal Jeff Nichols, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Interim Superintendent Eleanor Tritt went on a walk-through of the building on Monday and agreed a lot of work had been completed since the last board meeting update. They were joined by board members Chris Tice, Yorgos Tsibiridis and Susan Schaefer.

Additionally, the board discussed having a formal audit of the Sag Harbor Learning Center bond project.

“I would support that we ask for an audit of this project,” Ms. Tice said, adding that the district has internal auditors.

More information about an audit will be discussed by the audit committee and by the board of education before a formal recommendation is made.